MP vs Desert Ridge football

Mountain Pointe's Antwaun Woodberry (3) plows through some Jaguar defenders as he picks some yardage during he Pride's win over Desert Ridge in the 6A quarterfinals.

Up the road at Sun Devil Stadium, the college team that normally wears maroon and gold chose to dress in black Thursday, a reminder of a season killed, in large part, by injuries at key positions.

Down in Ahwatukee, the high school team that normally wears maroon and gold opted for black, as well.

And Mountain Pointe, like the Arizona State program it models its uniforms after, has been beset by a spate of injuries in 2016 that once threatened to derail the Pride’s potential.

But the way Mountain Pointe has continued to stomp on opponents, regardless of who it’s missing, the mood inside Karl Kiefer Stadium this year has been anything but funereal.

Despite playing without its starting quarterback and leading rusher for the fifth consecutive game, top-seeded Mountain Pointe cruised on its way to staying undefeated, beating No. 8 Desert Ridge 47-21 at home Thursday in the 6A quarterfinals.

Safety Isaiah Pola-Mao had three interceptions on the evening, returning two of them for touchdowns for Mountain Pointe, which advances to the state semifinals for the seventh time in the last eight seasons. The Pride will face No. 13 Red Mountain next Friday at McClintock High.

Mountain Pointe plans to wear its black jerseys throughout its postseason run, Pola-Mao said, in the hope of catching the magic of the 2013 Pride team that went 14-0 on its way to a state championship.

“We remember 2013, when they wore black every playoff game,” Pola-Mao said. “We were like, ‘They made a statement, they got it done. Let’s do the same thing.’”

Pola-Mao nearly single-handedly got it done Thursday for Mountain Pointe. The 6-foot-4 senior picked off Desert Ridge passes on consecutive possessions in the second quarter, taking each back for touchdowns to stake Mountain Pointe to a 27-3 lead.

The interceptions were Pola-Mao’s first since Oct. 7, with his second pick breaking former teammate Jalen Brown’s school record of 16 in a career.

“It had been on my mind every game,” Pola-Mao said.

Pola-Mao added a third interception in the fourth quarter, and fellow defensive back Antwaun Woodberry also recorded a pick-six Thursday, marking Mountain Pointe’s final score of the game.

Pride coach Norris Vaughan said injured quarterback Noah Grover, who is nearing a return after breaking his leg Oct. 7, could be ready next week to retake the starting job from sophomore Nick Wallerstedt, who had an 88-yard touchdown run Thursday.

But Mountain Pointe (12-0) has hardly missed a beat in Grover’s absence, just as it kept churning after losing running back Gary Bragg for the season to a knee injury in September.

“We don’t care (about the injuries),” Vaughan said. “All we care about is to win the tournament, survive and advance. That’s the only thing that matters, no matter how you do it.”

On the other side, Desert Ridge (8-4) is eliminated in the quarterfinals a season after reaching the Division I state championship game in 2015.

“It’s hard because I have four three-year starters as seniors, so to lose them is super tough,” Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock said. “…We’re not a passing team. When you get out of your element against a team like (Mountain Pointe), it’s tough.

“But there’s not a lot to be ashamed of. We’re a good football team that just didn’t get it at the end. It was a hard year for us all around but the kids gave us a lot of effort, and that’s all you can ask for.”

* Killian is a Tempe-based freelancer.

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